Derek Barnett might simply be too good to keep on the sidelines this season.
No player in the NFL has more sacks this preseason than Barnett, who has three of them in 59 snaps. The Eagles' first-round pick wreaked havoc from both sides of the formation in Thursday night's win over the Buffalo Bills with two tackles, a sack, and two hits on the quarterback.
Barnett has lined up with the second-team defense to this point, but head coach Doug Pederson wants to see how he'll fare against better competition this week.
"It's important. Obviously, better tackles, better competition is a sign of where you are in your development process," Pederson said. "But you could see how quick he is off the ball. You could see how well he bends. There's just a relentless finish. He plays to the whistle, and that's exciting. So hopefully these next couple weeks, you know, with Miami coming up, we'll give him a chance to roll in there with the first unit again and just continue to watch him grow.”
The Dolphins come to the NovaCare Complex for joint practices on Monday and Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s preseason game. Barnett will have the opportunity to battle left tackle Laremy Tunsil, a 2016 first-round pick, among others. The two squared off in 2014 when Barnett's Tennessee Volunteers played Tunsil and Ole Miss. The Rebels, ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time, won the game with ease, but Barnett had plenty of individual success as a true freshman against Tunsil. Barnett finished the game with two sacks and four tackles for loss.
Barnett had 10 sacks in that 2014 season and has started his NFL career hungry to be more than the player who broke Reggie White's school sack record at Tennessee. He's been open-minded to increase his arsenal of pass-rush moves. He makes sure he's always around the ball, no matter if the play comes his way or not.
It's those little things which have the Eagles thinking big when it comes to Barnett's future.
“I always tell myself if my technique is good, the sacks will come. So I just try to hone in on my technique and stuff and just try to do what they’ve asked me to do," Barnett said.
"I’ve still got more work to be done. It’s just two preseason games. It’s not the regular season yet, so there are still a lot of things I need to improve.”